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Two fatal aggressive driving incidents occurred in Utah this week, the latest in what authorities say is a growing number of aggressive driving cases in the Beehive State.

On Sunday, 38-year-old Michael Brown of Eagle Mountain was knocked unconscious in a fight in Lehi around 1:40 p.m. Lehi police say he cut off another driver’s right of way and slammed on his brakes, then followed Brown into a neighborhood where the two got into an argument in front of Brown’s children. He was taken from the scene by helicopter and pronounced dead Tuesday.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Lehi police arrested 43-year-old John Williams as part of the investigation for aggravated assault.

On Monday, 63-year-old James Edward Saccato of West Point was shot and killed after he was involved in a car crash and fled the scene, according to Clearfield police. The other driver chased Saccato, called 911 and followed him into a neighborhood where an altercation ensued. Police say Saccato was shot and the shooter was questioned but released.

For Utah Senator Todd Weiler (R-Woods Cross), the two incidents underscore the importance of a bill he worked on during the last legislative session that aims to increase penalties for drivers who speed on the road. The Road Rage Amendments, introduced by Representative Paul Cutler (R-Centerville), take effect on July 1.

“I wish it were already in effect,” said Weiler, who introduced the bill in the Senate.

The law defines road rage as a criminal act “with the intent to endanger or intimidate a person in another vehicle.”

Jeff Buhman, executive director of the Utah Statewide Association of Prosecutors and Public Attorneys, said it is one of the first laws of its kind in the country.

“We’re seeing an increase in road rage in many states, but we’re among the first to do something about it,” he told Utah News Dispatch.

The law increases penalties and fines for road rage cases – a Class B misdemeanor will be upgraded to a Class A misdemeanor and a Class A misdemeanor will be upgraded to a third-degree felony. People convicted of road rage two or more times within a year will have their driver’s license revoked, and police may also impound their vehicle. Drivers guilty of road rage can be fined up to $1,000.

These stricter measures can also be applied to vehicle occupants if they throw objects or pull out a weapon.

The fines from these incidents will then be used to fund a campaign to raise awareness and prevent aggression in road traffic, the draft law states.

Although the law primarily addresses misdemeanors, Weiler hopes it will prevent or eliminate fatal crashes like this week’s by getting aggressive drivers off the road and giving law enforcement “another tool in their toolbox.”

“Many cases of road rage occur in vehicles that weigh about 2.2 tons or more and travel at 100 to 130 km/h or more. And split-second decisions actually cost human lives. It seems to me and many others that there has been an increase in these cases of road rage since COVID-19. When people started dying, that caught my attention,” Weiler said on Wednesday.

Data from the Utah Department of Public Safety shows that 23 of the 279 traffic fatalities in 2023 were defined as “aggression-related deaths.”

And while that’s a slight decrease from 2022, when there were 28 deaths related to aggressive driving in Utah, data from recent years suggests it’s a growing problem on the state’s roadways. According to DPS, there were eight deaths related to road aggression in 2019, 25 in 2020 and 27 in 2021.

The state has the capacity to track the most serious cases of fatal road rage, but Utah currently has no system for collecting data on less serious offenses.

“We hear sporadically from prosecutors that this is a growing problem, but it’s hard to pinpoint because there’s no nationwide database,” Buhman said.

Today, when someone commits a road rage incident and is arrested for it, they may be charged with something like speeding, reckless driving, or displaying a weapon, but there is nothing on their record to indicate that it was a road rage incident.

This is set to change in July, when the law will allow prosecutors and judges to search an offender’s criminal record for an aggravated traffic offense, which in turn will provide the state with an opportunity to collect data.

“In a year or two, when we have more data, we can make a data-based decision about whether the bill goes too far or not far enough,” Weiler said.

Utah News Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) nonprofit organization. Utah News Dispatch maintains its editorial independence. If you have any questions, contact Editor McKenzie Romero: (email protected)Follow Utah News Dispatch on Facebook and Þjórsárden.

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